Separate but Equal Branches: Congress and the Presidency

By Charles O. Jones | Go to book overview
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8
Carter and Congress

It seems a reasonable enough proposition that a president will organize his congressional relations to suit his political goals and his personal style. Available literature supports this expectation--at least before the administration of Jimmy Carter. But, of course, recent presidents have been wise in the ways of Washington as a consequence of lengthy experience in the nation's capital. In fact, most have served in Congress. Among post-World War II presidents before Carter, only Dwight Eisenhower lacked service on Capitol Hill (and Fred Greenstein now assures us that his political savvy was fine tuned). 1

Having a president without Washington experience--or one intolerant of Washington ways of making policy--does not alter the basic proposition stated above. Instead, it encourages different expectations of how such a president will organize his congressional connections. Jimmy Carter was not reluctant to express his distaste for Washington politics during the 1976 campaign. He was expected, however, to ignore his anti-Washington campaign themes once in office. That he did not do so invited criticism of him for being inexperienced and naive. These judgments were based on tests drawn from a model of the president doing politics with Congress by time-honored methods, with the Johnson presidency often used as the basis for measurement. But, of course, Jimmy Carter was not Lyndon Johnson. And measuring his performance by the Johnson goals and style is not true to the opening proposition. In fact, it reshapes the proposition to read: a president who lacks Washington experience should organize his congressional relations in a manner that ignores (or changes) his policy goals and his personal style. The chapter is organized to treat the following topics:

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